Stats Geek: If Pedro gets traded, don't expect much return

By Brian O'Neill 8 years ago

Pedro Alvarez strikes out during a game at PNC Park earlier in the 2015 season. What will his trade value be as the 2015 season progresses? (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

By now, the fear of “losing’’ Pedro Alvarez has become a happy memory for Pirates fans.

Circa 2013, people were fearing his eventual loss to free agency. That season, Alvarez tied for the National League lead with 36 home runs. (That made it OK that he also edged out Jay Bruce for the NL whiff crown with 186.) It was Alvarez’s second consecutive season of 30 or more homers. He was only 26 and a plus defender at third base, despite his errors.

That seems a very long time ago. The way he’s played the past season and a half, the question is not whether to sign him. It’s whether to cut him or trade him this winter, with the former being a remote possibility if he doesn’t pick up his game. There won’t likely be much market for a 29-year-old, light hitting, poor fielding, platoon first baseman who would be due more than $6 million in arbitration next year.

Understand that this is baseball and a lot can change between now and the end of the season. Players that many fans wrote off in spring training or at the end of April --  Jung Ho Kang, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer -- have picked up their games. That could also happen with Alvarez, but he’ll have some heavy lifting to do.

Let’s begin with the truth that a first baseman needs to produce more than a third baseman. Alvarez threw so badly last season that he heaved himself clear across the diamond. Now he’s among some truly heavy hitters and he’s in no way a plus defender.

Looking at the rankings for offensive Wins Above Replacement for first basemen or third basemen with at least 200 plate appearances this year, Alvarez ranks 41st among 53 players. Dead last is Ryan Zimmerman, 30, of the Nationals, who’s hitting just .209/.265/.346/.611, with five homers in 211 AB. Zimmerman is another ersatz third baseman now playing first and is Exhibit Z for why it can be dangerous to lock up young players early. Zimmerman signed an 11-year, $135 million contract in 2009 that won’t run out until 2019. Ouch.

The top corner infield hitters this year are Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo, all hitting at least .290, on base at a .353 clip or better, and slugging at least .540. Alvarez has never in his six seasons hit above .244, gotten on base above .317 or slugged above .467. His numbers this year, disappointing as they are, very closely match his career numbers coming into the season.

2010-14       .235/.307/.435/.742

2015            .242/.314/.434/.748

Alvarez has cut down on his strikeouts, whiffing 26 percent of the time rather than the 33 percent of his first five seasons. Trouble is that extra contact hasn’t added power. He’s gone from a home run every 19.8 AB through 2014 to one every 21.9 this season. Again, he could make that up quickly in a hot streak, but the big picture for Pedro isn’t promising.

Looking at all active corner infielders with at least 1,500 plate appearances since 2010, Alvarez ranks 43rd among the 54 players in overall WAR. That puts him in the same company as the two left-handed hitting first basemen the Pirates let go after each of the past two seasons, Garrett Jones and Ike Davis.


Alvarez   .235/.308//.435/.743

Jones     .248/.307/.436/.743

Davis      .242/.335/.421/.757

You shouldn’t have to pay a lot for players like these, and teams don’t. Davis, who came up the same year as Alvarez and is also 28, was sold by the Pirates to the A’s last winter and signed a $3.8 million contract. Jones, non-tendered by the Pirates after the 2013 season, signed a two-year, $7.75 million deal with the Marlins. He’s finishing that out with the Yankees and not hitting very well.

Davis, Alvarez and Jones also have this in common: They don’t hit lefties. All have between 485 and 615 career plate appearances against southpaws, roughly a season’s worth, and have hit .195, .196 or .197 with an OPS .576, .577 or .580. I’d tell you who did what if it mattered, but none of those are first basemen’s numbers; those should be attached to a good-field, no-hit shortstop.

The Pirates need much more from Alvarez if they want to make a run at the Cardinals. They also need more from him if they expect to get anything in a trade for him this winter. I’m not sure anyone entirely understands how arbitration works, but if you had to pay Alvarez a big number next year would you offer more than a bag of balls to take on such risk?

If you think he’ll figure things out at 29, like Jose Bautista, you would. But Alvarez has been looking a lot more like Davis or Jones.